PINTO, S.R.R.; SANTOS, A.M.M.; TABARELLI, M. 2009. Seed predation by rodents and safe sites for large-seeded trees in a fragment of the Brazilian Atlantic forest. Brazilian Journal of Biology 69(3):763-771.
Abstract. Seed predation by small rodents is an emerging theme in the ecology of modified landscapes. Here we investigate the role played by the small rodent Oryzomys oniscus as a seed predator of large-seeded trees in a large remnant of the Atlantic forest - the Coimbra forest (3,500 ha), Alagoas state, northeastern Brazil. O. oniscus was captured and identified by setting twenty 500 m long transects, each one composed of 25 traps 20 m apart. This procedure resulted in 483 trap-nights set during a 20-mo period. We used 692 seeds (>15 mm length) from ten local large-seeded tree species for the seed predation trials that basically consisted of three treatments: one seed on the ground freely accessed by vertebrates (unprotected seed), one seed totally protected by an exclosure, and one partially-protected seed (exclosure just for medium-sized and large vertebrates). O. oniscus was captured throughout the Coimbra forest including forest edges (76 captures) and interior areas (67), and this small rodent was responsible for all seed predation visually documented inside exclosures. A 24 hours period of seed exposition permitted elevated rates of seed removal and predation. Seeds were much more removed/predated beneath fruiting trees, but rates varied according to the level of seed protection — 26.3% of predation among partially-protected versus 19.2% among unprotected seeds. Seeds suffered higher levels of seed predation/removal at the forest edge as well (up to 90%). In both habitats, most seeds (>84%) remained intact beneath trees without fruits, regardless of the level of seed protection. Our results suggest that O. oniscus may operate as an effective large-seed predator in forest fragments, in which adult trees without fruits constitute low resource spots and thereby provide, at least temporarily, safe sites for large seeds.